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Neglectful mother or doting mom?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We mothers can be each other’s sharpest critics.

When the Journal publishes a story about a youth who breaks bad, some of the most damning comments come from moms disparaging the youth’s mother (and father, should there be one around).

When a child is hurt, endangered or killed, many a mom’s first reaction is to ask what the mother did wrong.

On Monday, as law enforcement frantically scoured the city in search of a 9-month-old girl snatched by a man authorities identified as the mother’s new boyfriend (new, as in one week), I heard from moms skeptical as to whether that mom was agonizing or an accomplice.

LUCILA GONZALEZ

LUCILA GONZALEZ

(The mother was charged with child abuse after Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies say she was drunk and exhibited a “lack of empathy or true concern” for her child. A Metro Court judge released the mother, saying there was no probable cause and that the deputy had made the arrest on a moral judgment not necessarily a criminal offense.)

And then there is Lucila Gonzalez, the 33-year-old mom who last week raised a ruckus over her decision to go to a gym while her middle-school son chilled in her car outside.

This time, the majority of mothers I heard from supported her actions, or at least gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Gonzalez, you may recall, was charged with felony child abuse April 4 when she left her son – who is almost 12, not 12 as previously reported, including in the criminal complaint – and his dog in her 2004 Volvo in front of the Planet Fitness at Coors and Dennis Chavez SW. Gonzalez, who had left the sun roof open for ventilation and had locked the doors, had been working out in the gym for about a half-hour when a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy arrived.

What was the big deal, many moms asked. This was a sixth-grader, not an infant. How, we wondered, was this a crime?

“By age 12, every mom in America happily leaves the child in the car, especially if they don’t want to go,” one mom told me.

“I always chose to stay in the car and listen to the radio when the parents ran their silly errands,” said another. “Don’t young folks have any rights these days? Like the right not to watch their mom work out?”

We moms wondered what we didn’t know – was this child special needs? In distress? Was the car surrounded by wolves?

There is no state law, we knew, that makes it illegal to leave a child that age in a car, provided the child appears safe. Children older than 10, we knew, could legally be left alone at home, according to city ordinance.

The sheriff’s department would not answer questions posed by my colleagues about what danger the boy was in.

But this week, the mother’s lawyer had plenty to say.

“The conduct described does not invoke any of the statutes’ language for criminal intent, much less negligence, much less any realistic or actual reasonable possibility of harm,” Albuquerque attorney Jason Alarid said. “Quite simply, the arrest was without probable cause that a crime was or had been committed, and therefore Mrs. Gonzalez’ arrest becomes a violation of her civil rights.”

A few other points:

The boy was under his mother’s instructions not to leave the car and to not open the door for strangers, Alarid said.

The front of Planet Fitness is nearly all glass, easy for anybody inside to see anybody outside.

The deputy described the boy as “nervous,” according to the complaint. But what boy wouldn’t be nervous if a deputy and a gaggle of women in spandex were circling?

Alarid said the boy is shy, and the situation that arose that day was extremely traumatic.

“All activities pointed to something being wrong, or he or his mom were in trouble,” he said. “How can we fault hesitation?”

This week, sheriff’s spokeswoman Deputy Felicia Romero told me that a factor in arresting Gonzalez was that the boy could not open the door from the inside, which was a safety concern.

Alarid countered that the stressful situation may have slowed the boy’s response time and that the vehicle may have low-profile locks or a child safety switch, which would override the lock and handle mechanism meant to keep kids from opening the door in the back.

And hello, Alarid said the boy was equipped with a cellphone to call his mother should he need to get out of the car, he said. A cellphone was never mentioned in the complaint.

The boy is not special needs and is slight for his age, he said.

Also according to the complaint, the boy said he sometimes gets scared when people walk near the vehicle. But my motherly instincts cause me to wonder whether his mom was more scared to leave him home in what can generously be called a low-budget, 70-acre mobile home park than in the relative tranquility of a car parked within her view in a tiny, shiny new strip mall replete with Sushi King and Dion’s.

The family’s tidy, pink single-wide may be two miles from the gym, but it seems worlds away – and not necessarily a world where some moms might feel safe to leave their kids home alone, even for an hour. Days before Christmas, an 18-year-old was shot dead in the street here and a 17-year-old was wounded when a game of beer pong turned deadly.

This week, an arrest was made in a homicide that happened here last summer when warring gangs came to blows.

“Simply, Mrs. Gonzales keeps her son close to her in a go-everywhere-with-me sort of way, and I am sure their humble abode and rough surroundings play into that,” Alarid said. “I think she is a doting mother vs. anything negligent much less putting her son in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation.”

It’s easy to criticize us moms for the decisions we make on behalf of our kids. In some cases, it’s wholly warranted. In others, it’s needless meddling. In this case, the mom majority, as I see it, sides with the latter.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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